May 1996 – EP reviews – No-Man’s ‘Housewives Hooked on Heroin’ (“turning away from the light to embroil themselves in a polluted twilight”)

30 May

No-Man: 'Housewives Hooked on Heroin' EP

No-Man: ‘Housewives Hooked on Heroin’ EP

Mumsy cover art, titillating tabloid title and five tracks of wilful wrongfooting? For their first new material in two years, No-Man are not relying on the comforts of familiarity. Compared to the ornate, orchestrated silkiness of their first three albums, the No-Man sound of ’96 is much more confrontational. Bigger, noisier, dirtier; a swamp rather than a garden; these aesthetes are turning away from the light to embroil themselves in a polluted twilight.

‘Housewives Hooked on Heroin’ is the baleful first single from the forthcoming ‘Wild Opera‘ album – downbeat, low-key, opening on a bed of twangy guitar and suffocated electric piano chimes like a smog-ridden dawn over Las Vegas. A disaffected gasp of vocal pans over a landscape of weathered, weary icons – ageing pop starts, Howard Hughes – before enormous sour guitars slide in and drag it into a rolling chorus with the deathly beat-driven wallop of Sisters of Mercy. “Not even housewives hooked on heroin / could match my appetite for sin…”


 
No-Man come on like a flattened, ever-so-slightly Gothic Bowie, full of the empty hunger which you get on those evenings when there’s nothing you want to do, the heat’s pressing down and the light of day is stained by a sodium glow. Fittingly, Scanner’s Housewives Hooked on Methadone remix recasts the song in a fuzzy cloud of radio static, sirens and dusky synths hovering over a dry, frenetic junglist beat. I do miss his usual trademark dialogue samples, though, snatched illicitly from hidden conversations on mobile phones. Perhaps the housewives were on hold that evening.


 
If you’re already missing the thought of that departed beauty, No-Man do allow a nod to their more recent past with Where I’m Calling From, another fragile, obscure No-Man ballad connecting the stagnation of the earthbound and isolated with the loneliness of the stars. Tingling Robert Fripp Soundscapes meld with a limpid Steven Wilson Stars Die melody and the bitter, uncertain comment of Ian Carr’s reedy trumpet. Tim Bowness sings as if encapsulated in a phone box, wheeling through the outskirts of the Milky Way, making one final disaffected farewell call. “Where I’m calling from, you wouldn’t want to know…/ Where I’m calling from, you wouldn’t want to go.” A dog barks suddenly in the middle of all of this – it’s like the real world trying to get a last foothold in this dangerous reverie.


 
But that’s about as familiar as it gets. The spidery twitch of Hit the Ceiling (written and recorded, from start to finish, in one hour) hurls the spontaneous risks of current No-Man working strategies straight into our faces. Breakneck rattling drum track, skeletal guitar and the reverberating coloratura of a disembodied diva – Halloween in the attic of the Paris Opera. Urban Disco deepens their dance content with a dystopian shadowy blur of suffocating beats and whispering, glancing lyrical swipes at the self-satisfaction of hedonism, leaving the solipsis of previous No-Man behind in order to flit like a malevolent ghost around the cigarette-ends of the high life.


 
The ‘Wild Opera’ overture has been played. People seduced by the warm caresses of ‘Flowermouth’ and ‘Heaven Taste’ look set to be in for a rude awakening, but an interesting trip.

No-Man: ‘Housewives Hooked on Heroin’
3rd Stone Ltd, STONE 026CD (5023693002651)
CD-only EP
Released:
28th May 1996
Get it from: (2020 update) Original EP best obtained second-hand or from Burning Shed; Housewives Hooked on Heroin appears on No-Man’s ‘Wild Opera’ album, while Urban Disco reappeared on the ‘Dry Cleaning Ray’ mini-album. All of the EP tracks bar Housewives Hooked on Methadone were included on the 2010 double CD remaster of ‘Wild Opera’.
No-Man online:
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